Blogging != Politics

There’s an interesting roundelay about blogging and politics going on at Doc Searls’ and Gerald Vanderleun‘s. The topic is the impact of blogging on politics, and the arguments are simple. Doc says:

I sense an opening here for a practical libertarian sensibility coming to the fore, from the grass roots … from the blogs. What makes this sensibility a moderating influence is the tie that it makes to sensible governance.

This country has been whipsawed for too long between those who hate big business and those who hate big government, and who have used both to pound on both, to many bad effects. The trick is to look past the sports events we call elections, to the hard and compromising work we call governance. Are we going to fix the roads? Make public transportation work? Continue opening trade? Fix health care? Can we? (It’s a legitimate question.) Should we? How? Visiting those questions with an open mind, I think, is most deeply what networked democracy is all about.

Gerald replies:

To return to the thought at the top of the file, when you’re a blog everything looks like a post. I’m not among those whose pulse starts to race when yet another pol enters the blogrolls. I don’t think it is all that significant. Why? First because it is very premature to start picking winners and losers and the reasons why. Second, because I don’t think for a moment these PoliBloggers are sincere. Reasons?

But hope dies hard, and when a man shows up that not only says things that make the left feel good about itself, but uses the tools of the cyberlibertarian realm in a manner that seems effective, then it is understandable that those deeply embedded in the cyberculture and Blogworld start to perceive a luminosity around a candidate that is not visible to the vast unconnected, unwired, and unconcerned multitudes.

I’m of two minds on this.

On one hand, I feel like a change in perspective is coming, and in my own shared disaffection I feel like I’m moving with a larger tide. When Doc says “The trick is to look past the sports events we call elections, to the hard and compromising work we call governance,” he’s definitely talking my language.

On the other, I think that Dean is an arguably (I know some folks in Vermont who don’t think so) good guy who is using the tools of the Internet to get some early leverage in the race. I doubt that he will be nominated, and if he is nominated, I’ll predict a McGovern-level debacle for the Democrats. I do think that the blogoverse is an echo chamber, in which fifty or one hundred conversations take place and suddenly we feel like the world is changing. Gerald is fully in the right to throw some cold water on the fantasies of the Wired Magazine crowd.

I commented a long time ago that this blogging thing is a dojo – a training and practice ground – in which I hope to develop my own political thinking so I can take it out and use it in the real world.

I’m softening a bit on that, and coming to believe that it is becoming a stream in the giant media Feed that helps define that ‘real world'; but I still hold that it’s what we do when we’re away from the keyboard that counts.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Back from a bachelor party weekend in Las Vegas, and as I try and rehydrate, I read two interesting articles in the Sunday’s L.A. Times Opinion section (annoying registration required, use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’).

The first one is a blithe commentary on the need for the ICC by Robert McNamara, still atoning. I’m working on something that sets out why I think the concept of ‘international law’ means something quite different from ‘national law’, but read his article yourself and see what you think.

The second is a thoughtful, but partisan, article on white-collar job flight by David Friedman, from the New America Foundation. His column almost exactly reflects what I believe about the state of the economy and the response of the two big parties to what we’re seeing. read the whole thing, but here are three good grafs:

News that major U.S. technology companies, among them IBM, plan to export thousands of high-skill jobs overseas indicates that worrisome trends in the U.S. economy will probably strengthen. Optimists contend that such “workforce flexibility” guarantees that something new … the Internet, biotechnology … will turn up to create similar high-paying jobs and carry the economy forward. But rather than triggering real economic development, moving white-collar jobs offshore underscores how reliant the U.S. economy has become on inflating high-end wealth and paper assets to compensate for large-scale job losses. If this pattern holds, the next boom may quickly mutate into another unsustainable bubble, further limiting America’s industrial options.

Today, if you’re, say, a U.S. filmmaker or an executive of a high-tech company, you can freely shift skilled and managerial-level jobs to low-wage or government-subsidized nations or hire at will from a bottomless pool of compliant workers in those countries. As a result, you can accumulate personal wealth much more rapidly. In turn, you pay far more in taxes.

This arrangement also makes private-sector employment less secure. That boosts demand for government services like job retraining and education. Tenured, benefit-rich public-sector jobs become more attractive. As wealth creation at the top is fostered, so too is the apparent need for and capacity to fund the public sector.

But it’s difficult to sustain economic growth this way. For example, during the last boom, the economic link between elite wealth and the public sector was most fully forged in New York City, Seattle and the Bay Area. For a time, housing prices soared, stock options fattened executives’ incomes and the resulting tax windfall fed public-sector expansion.

When the economy slowed, these areas were especially vulnerable. Land-use, zoning and redevelopment policies had driven out the middle and working classes, leaving behind an unbalanced economic base. Even after the economy soured, growth restraints kept property values high and public spending continued unabated, frustrating hopes for a quick turnaround.

Democrats have largely abandoned their New Deal, pro-industrial political legacy in favor of an elite-dominated, anti-development sensibility. The powerful public-sector unions that now dominate the party have little incentive to expand the private sector, in no small measure because they disproportionately benefit from the accumulation of massive wealth in a small number of pockets.

Across the aisle, Republican economic thinking is increasingly shaped by what political commentator Michael Lind calls “Southernomics” … a primitive commodity capitalism inspired by 19th century industries like cotton and oil production. Its adherents are unlikely to be troubled by the expansion of a concentrated, aristocratic-style wealth distribution. The party’s once vocal advocacy for entrepreneurial, egalitarian development is today rarely heard.

It may be that America’s flexible labor force is enough to stimulate an unexpected creative breakthrough, reinvent the U.S. economy, replace the nation’s dwindling supply of quality jobs and pay off the nation’s huge public deficits. But it’s just as likely that the next boom will be even more volatile and short-lived than the last one. If so, the pathologies latent in the U.S. economy may become even more entrenched and increasingly difficult to treat.

I’m not sure he’s nailed the Republican condition, but he’s absolutely right on three things:

The Democratic alliance between the high-wealth sector and the public employees, as each become more and more dependant on the other (the wealthy to the public sector to deal with the externalities they create, and the public sector on the wealthy to provide the tax revenue necessary);

The Republican policy abandonment of “entrepreneurial, egalitarian development”;

And the fact that our responses to this…as we are seeing right now in California…leave us with fewer and few policy options as the burden of public debt increases along with the fragility of the regional economic and social networks, meaning that disruptive change becomes less and less possible as we slowly drift downward to Neil Stevenson’s prosperity (‘what looks like prosperity to a Pakistani brickmaker).